Tom Green on His Wild New Journey and Classic MTV Bits - Rolling Stone
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Tom Green on His Wild New Journey and Classic MTV Bits

The comedian reflects on his new podcast and cross-country trip — plus what it was like to reunite with his ex-wife Drew Barrymore

tom green

Courtesy of Tom Green

“Are you guys going to put me on the cover again?” Tom Green asks. He’s referring to photographer Mark Seliger’s infamous 2000 shot of Green holding a baby who’s peeing on his face. Back then, the Canadian comedian was at the height of his fame after starring in one of MTV’s hottest shows, which made him famous for causing chaos while hosting bingo games or talking over the intercom at department stores. Green’s wild man-on-the-street style remained deeply influential, echoing from Jackass to Sacha Baron Cohen.

Today, Green is on a new journey. He’s been touring the country doing stand-up for the last decade, and he just launched a new podcast, The Tom Green Interview. Green has hosted podcasts before, but this time he wanted to do something different. Bored at his home in L.A. as the pandemic lockdown dragged on, he purchased a state-of-the-art van and created a plan to drive himself across the country while broadcasting. So far, he’s taken calls from fans and interviewed everyone from Macaulay Culkin to Ray Romano.

The show, produced by Audio Up Media, is tied in with his social media, where Green has posted videos from Utah’s Dixie National Forest and Nevada’s Valley of Fire. “I’m curious what I’m going to come up with,” says Green. “If I’m sitting there looking at a beautiful glacier or a lake or a river mountain or a canyon and I’m all by myself, I might come up with something that maybe I wouldn’t have come up with sitting in my spare bedroom.”

I was looking back on some of your most famous bits, like the time you walked into a grocery store with a cow. How did you have the confidence to do stuff like that?
For one, I was always kind of the outrageous kid. I started doing stand-up when I was a teenager. I had a rap group in Canada. We got a record deal. We’d do really ridiculous stage shows. It was high-energy, silly stuff. I grew up watching Letterman, seeing him go out on the street, Monty Python, Saturday Night Live, SCTV. My friend Phil [Giroux] — the guy who drank coffee in the window on my show — and I were skateboarders. We would just go downtown to get a laugh, create a scene, silly stuff that kids do, but we started to get pretty good at it. When I started doing the show on community cable, there was this desire to go film some of these sort of performance art-y, messing with the public, messing with people on the street [scenes]. Whether it was at school, or out on my skateboard.

I went to broadcasting school. I edited all the material myself, and I would sit in these edit bays, the first couple years of doing the show, and look at every frame of every moment when I would go do this stuff on the street. My first year, you’d start laughing at your own bit. I guess it just evolved over time. I did the show for a long time in Canada and kind of figured out how to do it. I was definitely trying to mock the conventions in our modern world at the time, whether you’re on your skateboard, and the security guard says, “Get off your skateboard.” In your head, you’re thinking, “Where’s the logic there? I’m on a skateboard. I’m having fun. I’m doing something that’s healthy. Why are you telling me to get off the skateboard?” There’s no logic there. There’s a lot of those kinds of injustices you experience when you’re young, and you want to make some sort of a statement about it. There was an anger there. That was very real. And this was my way of expressing it. 

Do you still hear from people who are discovering the show today?
Yeah, I’ve been touring doing stand-up for the last decade, full-time. So I meet people all over the world. I went to Asia two years ago, Australia, Israel. I’d never done a show in Israel before. And yet, people coming up to me on the street were referencing bits that never even aired on MTV. They just know them from YouTube. One of the one of the videos that’s gotten a lot of views on YouTube right now is a video that was just an afterthought. We didn’t even think it was any good. I never even aired it on MTV. But now it’s become this really popular video, where I’m just standing in a Subway sandwich place and I just keep asking him to put some more green peppers, more tomatoes. “Can I have more mushrooms?” And he just keeps piling it up. It’s weird because it was just raw footage, a throwaway thing.

You started touring as a stand-up act 10 years ago. What have you learned in that time?
To answer your question with an answer that Ray Romano gave me on my podcast: I love interviewing stand-ups, especially extremely accomplished stand-ups like Ray, because I actually like to listen in and learn from from them. He said, “You just keep learning.” And that’s really true. I started doing stand-up when I was a teenager. I did it for several years, several times a week, during school nights and everything. I was very passionate about Yuk Yuk’s in Ottawa.

Eleven or 12 years ago, I started doing stand-up again and really touring for the first time. I’d never done a world tour before. So the opportunity to be able to get up on stage every night was a huge opportunity. The speed at which you start to improve when you’re on stage that much, I was very fortunate to have had a great opportunity to do it. You know, MTV picked up my goofy show, I was able to book myself every weekend all over the world for the last decade. I’m not doing it because I need to do it. I’m doing it because I actually want to get better at stand up. And I love it.

One of the things that I love most about stand-up, outside of the pure adrenaline rush of getting the reaction from the crowd, is sort like editing. Editing your minutiae, polishing off your words. That’s what I love about doing my podcast, too. I had a lot of fun interviewing Ray for the first episode of the podcast, and it was fun to be able to interview people about things like this, because I really enjoy trying to determine in advance: What does this person want to talk about? What has this person not talked about before? I’ve gotten a little bit of practice interviewing over the years. I just kind of sort of sit back and listen and see what they say.

tom green

Courtesy of Tom Green

Tell me about the journey you’re about to go on.
As strange as this year has been, it’s been sort of compounded by the fact that — I’m not looking for sympathy here, Patrick — but I happen to be single right now. I just so happened to find myself being single not too long before the pandemic. I haven’t been single for, like, 10 years. I have had a lot of nice girlfriends; it didn’t work out or whatever. And it really created a unique situation because it’s hard to meet people when you’re in quarantine. I ended up the last six months just taking some time off, spending a lot of time alone in my house, with my new dog, and wanting to throw myself into some creative things that I haven’t had time to do over the last decade.

I’ve built a studio in my house in Los Angeles. It was just hitting its stride. And I’ll tell you straight up: I kind of assumed that the pandemic would be over now. I was thinking right about now I’d be back doing stand-up at the Comedy Store. I was gonna have guests come up to my house, and we’d sit up by my pool and do the podcast, and then I’d go do stand-up around the country. And we’d be back to some sort of resemblance of normalcy. What ended up happening is just when I really just got the studio totally where I wanted it to be, I also realized, “Oh, this isn’t ending anytime soon.”

At that moment, I figured I had to get out of this house. My family’s in Canada. So now I’ve taken a lot of that work that I did to build a studio, and I’ve jumped in with both feet first and purchased a really cool camper, a van that has been converted into a camper. It’s got electronic capability, solar power to run electronics and batteries. The more I learned what the available technology is today, it immediately occurred to me, “Oh, I can take my studio and make sort of a van version of it, and get out of the house.”

I grew up in Canada. I’m very, very proficient in wild survival. I grew up fishing. I like to make a campfire. I know how to cook on a campfire. I’m not afraid of bugs. I like being outdoors. It’s not something that I played up very much in my show, but when I was a kid, I went off on these canoe trips, because my dad was a Canadian Army captain. I’m looking forward to getting out of the house. I essentially have a state-of-the-art broadcast production studio, and that is something that I never would have been able to do 10 years ago.

Beginning in the next few weeks, when you listen to The Tom Green Interview, you’re gonna be able to follow along with that story. I have a radio phone system in the back, so, so I’ll be interviewing celebrities and people, just like I am now, except I might be sitting in the middle of Yellowstone National Park, or sitting in New Mexico in the desert somewhere. It’s going to be woven together with my social media. So I’m going to encourage the listeners to go look on my Instagram, to check out my YouTube channel.

A lot of the great bits on your original show happened out in rural America or rural Canada.
Absolutely. I bought the van. I didn’t rent it, it’s not a loaner. A lot of work was involved putting this together. I didn’t just get it for one trip — this is going to be, unfortunately, the world we’re living in right now. I’m anticipating we’re living in a world now that this is not going to be immediately over, and there’s gonna be other situations like this. 

Thinking about the classic stuff that that you did, whether it was the bingo hall or going through a store dressed as an old man… Is that a guy that you can relate to? Would you do that kind of stuff again?
Well, it’s a complicated question to answer. I don’t want to sound like I’m pooh-poohing stuff that’s happening now, because a lot of people do that kind of stuff now. But the truth is, and I’ll just give you the what I honestly believe, when we were doing that stuff, a big part of what was going on in our mind was how ridiculous it was, because nobody else had ever done anything like that. That was what made it funny. And now to go out and do it again…. specifically, you know, dress up like an old man and get on an electric wheelchair — well, no, I did that. I did that in 1999, crashed into a bunch of stuff in the grocery store, and now many other people have done the exact bit since. So how does it make sense for me to go do my own bit again that’s already been done by other people since me? I thought I did it better, but anyways.

I just remember sitting there watching with my dad, and just he started laughing his ass off. He wanted to hate it, but he couldn’t. It was so good.
Yeah, because it was it was the shock and awe of the outrageousness of it, mixed with the comedy that I tried to blend in, and the timing of it all, and the rhythm of it all. But that being said, I want to do stuff that is not predictable. To me, that’s always fun, to be unpredictable. Because it’s more interesting for me, but also it’s a challenge. Sometimes it takes a few years to find that. You can’t just come up with something that’s never been done before every year. 

I did that with my internet show. When I was doing that, comedians would walk into my house, and podcasting didn’t exist yet. This was 2003 or something. That was, at the time, kind of like, “Hey, what’s going on with technology? You’re lucky you can stream the internet. I wonder if I can build a TV studio in my living room, invite up all the comedians in town and just do a talk show.” I remember seeing comedian after comedian come up and walk in. They’d see the lights on the ceiling, the cameras, the curtain, the desk, and you’d see their eyes get wide. You’d see them go. “Oh yeah, I can just do my own show. I don’t need to go ask somebody else to give me a show.”

From 2003 to 2007, in the living room that I’m standing in right now, it was the most ridiculous thing, because we knew we were doing something that no one had done before. I’d be up here with Norm Macdonald, or [Andrew] Dice Clay. I probably did 1000 shows here. It helped us continue to grow my worldwide audience. So when I started doing stand-up again, I’ve had this audience that I’ve been interacting with for, like, seven years online. 

When I did the [Canadian public access] show on Rogers Cable, there were many, many years where people were saying, “What are you doing?” I’d say, “Well, don’t you see the kids that are coming down to the audience freaking out? Certainly this is going to be big.” They’d go, “What are you going to do when this doesn’t work out?” And the same thing kind of happened with the web. So I kind of feel like some ways, again, long answer to your question, but to go back into a electric wheelchair and crash into a bunch of stuff — yeah, that would be going backwards.

Can you tell me about the “Joshua” clip?
Yeah, that was funny, because that honestly had nothing to do with my stand-up. I wasn’t even doing stand-up at the time, but when I started doing stand-up again, I’d get to the club and they’d say, “Geez, we saw that clip online, is that what you’re going to do?” No, that was a bit. We were mocking stand-up. That’s not what I’m doing. 

How did that bit actually happen? Was it an open mic, or a last-minute booking?
That was in the Bahamas, a comedy club called Jokers Wild. We did a spring break special, so we’re in the Bahamas, and the producers of the show were running around looking for us to film stuff, and someone said, “Hey, why don’t you get up at the comedy club?” The show was huge on MTV at the time. So when they announced that I was coming on stage, the comedy club was really excited. They didn’t know that we were coming in to sort of throw a wrench into the gears of the whole thing. There’s always been this thing that has been funny to me that we did a few times: the idea that you can walk up on stage at a comedy club,  the crowd goes apeshit crazy when I walk onstage, how long does it take to go from being a completely adoring crowd to absolutely hating your guts? We used to do the bit where we’d drive the audience home after the show. You know, at first the audience said, “Oh you’re going to drive us home after the show!” and then at 5:00 in the morning, we’re still dropping them off. There’s still 30 more people to drop off. And the person who was your biggest fan is a little bit annoyed with you. It was a style of joke that I sort of decided to leave behind a little bit. I’ve done that.

You have a subtler style today.
Yeah. I think stand-up’s really helped me with was realizing that if you really, really work hard at your craft, you get far more satisfaction from getting up on stage, and bringing a lot of joy to everybody in the room — not at the expense of anybody else. Sometimes, in The Tom Green Show, some of my movies and things like that, the joke was that it was so weird that you knew half the people were going to be so confused by it that they wouldn’t understand. Which makes it funnier to you. Ultimately, you’ve set yourself up where half the people are not going to get it. That was the joke. But that’s not as satisfying as everybody loving it, you know?

What was it like to reunite with your ex-wife, Drew Barrymore, on TV recently?
It was really nice, actually. We hadn’t talked to each other in 15 years, and time goes by fast, so she’s been married, I’ve been in relationships, traveling. We haven’t really been in contact. I’m really happy for her that she’s doing the show. It was a big part of my life when we got married, and we were together for a long time. People don’t really mention it — they always talk about how short the marriage was, but we were actually engaged for a year. We lived together for almost three years. Things were a little tough back then with everything going on, and it didn’t work out. But I’ve always been rooting for her, and it was nice of her to be so generous and supportive of me and what I do in the interview. I just thought it was really sweet, and we’ve been able to reconnect and chat a little bit since.

Did she call you before the show? Or did you go into the show and see her for the first time in all those years?
I mean, to pull back the curtain a little bit, we had a short conversation on the phone, the day before the interview, which was nice. But that was the first time we were actually sitting there looking at each other, on the show the next day. It was a meaningful thing for me. I mean, we had talked since we split up, We divorced 18 and a half years ago. 15 years ago, we talked a few times. It was all positive. But it’s nice to reconnect, you know?

Do you think that you might have her on on your show?
Yeah, absolutely. I would love to have her on. That’s a good idea! I’ll give her a shout now, actually. 

In This Article: Drew Barrymore, MTV, Podcasts, Tom Green

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